Leamer, Laurence Allen 1941-

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Leamer, Laurence Allen 1941-

PERSONAL: Surname is pronounced Lay-mer; born October 30, 1941, in Chicago, IL; son of Laurence E. (a professor) and Helen (a librarian; maiden name, Burkey) Leamer; married Eliana Robitschek (an educator), September 12, 1968 (divorced, 1980); married Vesna Obradovic, December 16, 1984; children: (first marriage) Daniela. Education: University of Besancon, diploma, 1962; Antioch College, B.A., 1964; University of Oregon, M.A., 1968; Columbia University, M.A., 1969.

ADDRESSES: Home and office—2408 34th St., #2, Santa Monica, CA 90405. Agent—The Lantz Office, Inc., 888 7th Ave., New York, NY 10106.

CAREER: Journalist and writer. U.S. Peace Corps, volunteer worker in Nepal, 1964–66; Columbia University, New York, NY, international fellow, 1968–69; Newsweek, New York, NY, associate editor, 1969–70. Consultant to the National Committee for an Effective Congress.

AWARDS, HONORS: Ford Foundation fellow, 1966–68; Pulitzer travel fellow, 1969; citation, Overseas Press Club, 1973, for article "Bangladesh in Morning"; new contributor award—second place, Playboy, 1973, for "Last of the Coal Barons."

WRITINGS:

The Paper Revolutionaries: The Rise of the Underground Press, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1972.

Playing for Keeps in Washington, Dial Press (New York, NY), 1977.

Assignment (novel), Dial Press (New York, NY), 1981.

Ascent: The Spiritual and Physical Quest of Willi Unsoeld, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1982, published as Ascent: The Spiritual and Physical Quest of Legendary Mountaineer Willi Unsoeld, Morrow (New York, NY), 1999.

Make-Believe: The Story of Nancy and Ronald Reagan, Harper & Row (New York, NY), 1983.

As Time Goes By: The Life of Ingrid Bergman, Harper & Row (New York, NY), 1986.

King of the Night: The Life of Johnny Carson, Morrow (New York, NY), 1989.

The Kennedy Women: The Saga of an American Family, Villard Books (New York, NY), 1994.

Three Chords and the Truth: Hope, Heartbreak, and Changing Fortunes in Nashville, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1997.

The Kennedy Men, 1901–1963: The Laws of the Father, Morrow (New York, NY), 2001.

Sons of Camelot: The Fate of an American Dynasty, Morrow (New York, NY), 2004.

Fantastic: The Life of Arnold Schwarzenegger, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2005.

Contributor to periodicals, including Playboy, New York Times Magazine, Harper's, New Times, New Republic, New York, and New Leader. Contributing editor, Washingtonian, 1975–.

SIDELIGHTS: Author Laurence Allen Leamer has held a number of positions in the field of journalism over the course of his career. He served as an associate editor for Newsweek, and has worked as a freelance writer for numerous periodicals. Leamer is best known as a book author, publishing political nonfiction books and a number of unauthorized biographies of celebrities.

Leamer's Playing for Keeps in Washington contains eight portrait essays about power in Washington and the people who wield it. His method couples "journalism with the short story," observed Eric Redman in the New York Times Book Review, "and, stylistically at least, the marriage works. Leamer's research is extensive, his characters real (they range from Henry Kissinger and Edward Kennedy to Ralph Nader and Nancy Hanks), but Leamer's literary techniques are lifted directly from the realm of fiction."

Leamer's other book on Washington powerbrokers, Make-Believe: The Story of Nancy and Ronald Reagan, which traces the lives of the fortieth president and his wife, begins his venture into the arena of unauthorized biography. With the help of a researcher, Leamer "has done an admirable job in putting together an easy-to-follow chronology," commented Anne Wittels in the Los Angeles Times Book Review. "In addition, Leamer has done comparative research, pointing out discrepancies between facts in public records and those same 'facts' when told, or ignored, in his subjects' own autobiographies." Leamer notes, for instance, that in Ronald Reagan's official biography as governor of California, he failed to mention his marriage to Jane Wyman and the two children he fathered by her. Similarly, Nancy's one-page biography begins "Nancy Davis Reagan was born in Chicago, the only daughter of Dr. and Mrs. Loyal Davis," when actually, asserts Leamer, she was born Anne Francis Robbins in New York City, the only daughter of Edith and Kenneth Robbins.

The theme of Make-Believe, stated Elisabeth Bumiller in the Washington Post, "is that the Reagans grew up in hard-knock worlds [Ronald's father was an alcoholic, Nancy's a cad who left her mother virtually at her birth], where they had to make-believe, married in Hollywood where the town made-believe for them, and now continue to create their own 'make-believe' world in Washington." In the New York Times Book Review, Nicholas Lehmann-Haupt granted that there "is something to this notion [of make-believe] … Both the Reagans had rough early childhoods …, and both found safe harbor—he as a genial actor, she as the stepdaughter of a Chicago surgeon," yet he ultimately dismissed the concept, describing Leamer as "too much the prisoner of his odd scraps of information … at other times, he's clearly reaching."

Bumiller concluded that for critics of the Reagan administration, "the book will simply confirm all the things they suspect, particularly about Nancy's problems with her children, her love of the sparkly set, and her ambitions for herself and her husband—all here in the most comprehensive catalogue to date. For Reagan fans, it will be another blast of cheap shots by a journalist."

In the Toronto Globe & Mail, Joy Fielding described Leamer's next unauthorized biography, As Time Goes By: The life of Ingrid Bergman, as a "fascinating story, full of big names and larger-than-life drama, and Laurence Leamer writes literally and well, keeping the reader glued to every page." Fielding noted a sexist slant to Leamer's writing, however, and commented that the author's "judgmental" writing may offend women readers. The reviewer conceded that Bergman had her faults, but added, "that she was as bad as Leamer's prose suggests is highly doubtful." Fielding concluded that "in trying to present an impartial and complete picture of the woman who was branded both saint and sinner, Leamer is ultimately tripped up by his own prejudices and the narrow perimeters of his own male perspective."

Ann Edwards, in a Washington Post Book World review, also perceived a lack of compassion for the subject by Leamer, claiming, "What he adds to the Bergman story is not insight or depth or, for that matter, anything of a revisionist nature, but a subtext that insinuates when it should illuminate." Edwards stated that "he presents her as wildly ambitious, egocentric, selfish and without very good motives or intelligence. Too often, her foibles are described in penny-dreadful prose." She further observed that "whenever the opportunity arises, Leamer has a way of placing Bergman in a bad light."

About Leamer's unauthorized biography King of the Night: The Life of Johnny Carson, Ronald L. Smith noted in the Chicago Tribune that "the research is so meticulous the book reads like a textbook," further commenting that the book "is an extremely thorough job of fact finding." Carson did not cooperate on the book, so Leamer and his research team spent over two years locating two hundred former neighbors, employees, and acquaintances from whom they gleaned information and anecdotes. Among the sources Leamer tapped were Carson's first wife, Jody, and two of his other three wives. Leamer managed to gain entrance to several events that Carson himself attended during the research period and told Ron Grossman in the Chicago Tribune, "My appearance caused a ripple of uneasiness to go through the crowd … some guests had already talked to me and were scared out of their wits lest I show a sign of recognizing them."

The biography prompted John J. O'Connor to write in the New York Times that "Laurence Leamer is more interested in enumerating less appealing aspects of Mr. Carson's off-camera life." O'Connor commented about Leamer's extensive research that "the resulting pastiche is often irritatingly speculative and nearly always juicy, already the stuff of tabloid headlines." The reviewer concluded, "For all of its sensational tidbits, this is a quintessentially American story of parlaying a modest talent into a staggering profit."

In 2001, Leamer returned to writing about political figures with the release of The Kennedy Men, 1901–1963: The Laws of the Father. Using a wide range of both established and new sources, the author chronicles the history of the men in the politically powerful Kennedy family, including Joseph Sr., Joseph Jr., Robert, Edward, and John. Leamer gives a full biography of each figure, and also discusses their roles in the family and in American politics as a whole. The author presents the work in a serious but relaxed style, including colorful vignettes and anecdotes from each man's life.

Critics reacted positively overall to The Kennedy Men, 1901–1963. Many found Leamer's account of this famous political family to be eloquent and fair. "This beautifully written, balanced account shows both the positive and the negative sides of the Kennedy men," observed Ralph Nurnberger in a review for Perspectives on Political Science. Other critics praised the author for his diligently researched work. "Although Leamer aims primarily at a general audience, scholars will take note of his considerable primary research … and dozens of his own interviews," wrote Library Journal contributor Robert F. Nardini.

Leamer followed up his book about the Kennedy men with 2004's Sons of Camelot: The Fate of an American Dynasty. With this work he switches focus to twelve sons of the Kennedy patriarchs. Through extensive interviews and other research, Leamer traces each son from adolescence into adulthood and beyond—working as entrepreneurs, publishers, attorneys, congressmen, and more. He also addresses how each son has handled the legacy of political power and fame that accompanies the Kennedy name.

Sons of Camelot was also met favorably by critics and readers alike. For many, Leamer's book offers new insight into this famous family. "Impeccable: Leamer never overreaches, delivering accessible and even insightful portraits of Camelot's sons," wrote one Kirkus Reviews contributor. For others, the book's strengths lie in the information provided by Leamer's contacts—professional and personal acquaintances the author has developed from his many years covering the Kennedy family. The research "gives his work an insider status rarely found in the Kennedy oeuvre," noted Ilene Cooper in a review for Booklist.

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

American Enterprise, January-February 1995, Florence King, review of The Kennedy Women: The Saga of an American Family, p. 87.

American Libraries, September 1999, review of The Kennedy Women, p. 97.

Antioch Review, spring 2002, review of The Kennedy Men 1901–1963: The Laws of the Father, p. 350.

Baltimore Chronicle, January 2, 2002, Joe Rosenberg, review of The Kennedy Men, 1901–1963.

Barron's, August 29, 1983, Richard Rescigno, review of Make-Believe: The Story of Nancy and Ronald Reagan, p. 41.

Booklist, July 1994, Ilene Cooper, review of The Kennedy Women, p. 1891; May 1, 1997, Mike Tribby, review of Three Chords and the Truth: Hope, Heartbreak, and Changing Fortunes in Nashville, p. 1458; August 2001, Ilene Cooper, review of The Kennedy Men, 1901–1963, p. 2048; March 1, 2002, review of The Kennedy Men 1901–1963, p. 1152; February 15, 2004, Ilene Cooper, review of Sons of Camelot: The Fate of an American Dynasty, p. 1002.

Book World, September 4, 1994, review of The Kennedy Women, p. 2; October 7, 2001, review of The Kennedy Men, 1901–1963, p. 3.

Campaigns & Elections, November 2001, review of The Kennedy Men, 1901–1963, p. 18.

Chicago Tribune, July 11, 1989, Ronald L. Smith, review of King of the Night: The Life of Johnny Carson; July 16, 1989, Ron Grossman, interview with Leamer.

Christian Century, October 12, 1983, review of Make-Believe, p. 914.

Christian Science Monitor, August 25, 1994, Ruth Johnstone Wales, review of The Kennedy Women, p. 13.

Country Music, November-December, 1997, Rich Kienzle, review of Three Chords and the Truth, p. 76.

Detroit Free Press, November 11, 2001, review of The Kennedy Men, 1901–1963, p. 4.

Entertainment Weekly, August 12, 1994, Lisa Schwarzbaum, review of The Kennedy Women, p. 48; May 26, 1995, review of The Kennedy Women, p. 83; May 8, 1998, review of Three Chords and the Truth, p. 67; December 14, 2001, review of The Kennedy Men, 1901–1963, p. 78.

Globe & Mail, July 5, 1986, Joy Fielding, review of As Time Goes By: The Life of Ingrid Bergman; November 17, 2001, review of The Kennedy Men, 1901–1963, p. 11.

Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 1994, review of The Kennedy Women, p. 961; April 15, 1997, review of Three Chords and the Truth, p. 615; August 15, 2001, review of The Kennedy Men, 1901–1963, p. 1193; February 15, 2004, review of Sons of Camelot, p. 167; April 15, 2005, review of Fantastic: The Life of Arnold Schwarzenegger, p. 462.

Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, September 7, 1994, Valerie Takahama, review of The Kennedy Women.

Library Journal, February 15, 1981, review of Assignment, p. 471; May 15, 1982, Carol Rasmussen, review of Ascent: The Spiritual and Physical Quest of Willi Unsoeld, p. 988; May 1, 1983, Steven D. Zink, review of Make-Believe, p. 897; February 15, 1986, John Smothers, review of As Time Goes By, p. 192; June 15, 1989, Rosellen Brewer, review of King of the Night: The Life of Johnny Carson, p. 60; June 15, 1997, Kathleen Sparkman, review of Three Chords and the Truth, p. 70; September 15, 2001, Robert F. Nardini, review of The Kennedy Men, 1901–1963, p. 88; April 15, 2004, Jill Ortner, review of Sons of Camelot, p. 96.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, June 5, 1983, Anne Wittels, review of Make-Believe, p. 8; September 11, 1994, review of The Kennedy Women, p. 1; February 15, 1998, review of Three Chords and the Truth, p. 3.

Ms. Magazine, May 1986, Mary Gordon, review of As Time Goes By, p. 22.

Newsweek, February 17, 1986, review of As Time Goes By, p. 71.

New York Review of Books, September 29, 1983, Gore Vidal, review of Make-Believe, p. 28.

New York Times, April 29, 1977; June 26, 1983, review of Make-Believe, p. 7; July 22, 1989, John J. O'Connor, review of King of the Night; June 4, 1997, Neil Strauss, review of Three Chords and the Truth, p. 14; June 6, 2005, David Carr, "Is Shriver Still Working for 'Today'?," p. 1.

New York Times Book Review, May 29, 1977, Eric Redman, review of Playing For Keeps in Washington; February 8, 1981, Alan Cheuse, review of Assignment, p. 15; June 26, 1983, Nicholas Lehmann-Haupt, review of Make-Believe, p. 7; July 23, 1989, Tom Buckley, review of King of the Night, p. 9; October 9, 1994, review of The Kennedy Women, p. 3; July 2, 1995, review of The Kennedy Women, p. 16; June 29, 1997, Terry Teachout, review of Three Chords and the Truth, p. 34; November 4, 2001, Michael Lind, review of The Kennedy Men, 1901–1963, p. 11; April 11, 2004, Mim Udovitch, review of Sons of Camelot, p. 22; July 17, 2005, Lou Cannon, review of Fantastic, p. 19.

People, June 13, 1983, review of Make-Believe, p. 16; July 25, 1994, Mitchell Fink, "Rose-colored News," p. 29; October 31, 1994, Jean Reynolds, review of The Kennedy Women, p. 32; July 7, 1997, Cynthia Sanz, review of Three Chords and the Truth, p. 30; April 5, 2004, Tom Conroy, review of Sons of Camelot, p. 47.

Perspectives on Political Science, winter, 2002, Ralph Nurnberger, review of The Kennedy Men, 1901–1963, p. 62.

Presidential Studies Quarterly, winter, 1995, review of The Kennedy Women, p. 169.

Publishers Weekly, December 12, 1980, Barbara A. Bannon, review of Assignment, p. 44; April 9, 1982, Genevieve Stuttaford, review of Ascent, p. 38; April 8, 1983, review of Make-Believe, p. 55; June 15, 1984, review of Make-Believe, p. 81; January 31, 1986, review of As Time Goes By, p. 359; February 27, 1987, review of As Time Goes By, p. 160; May 19, 1989, Genevieve Stuttaford, review of King of the Night, p. 73; May 25, 1990, review of King of the Night, p. 56; July 25, 1994, review of The Kennedy Women, p. 40; February 6, 1995, review of The Kennedy Women, p. 53; April 14, 1997, review of Three Chords and the Truth, p. 61; August 27, 2001, review of The Kennedy Men, 1901–1963, p. 67; February 23, 2004, review of Sons of Camelot, p. 66; May 23, 2005, review of Fantastic, p. 72.

Reference & Research Book News, October 1989, review of King of the Night, p. 27; February 2002, review of The Kennedy Men, 1901–1963, p. 49.

Southern Living, August 1997, Bo Johnson, review of Three Chords and the Truth, p. 94.

Time, June 26, 1989, Stefan Kanfer, review of King of the Night, p. 66.

Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), August 26, 1990, review of King of the Night, p. 8.

USA Today, July 27, 1984, review of Make-Believe, p. 3.

Variety, May 10, 1989, review of King of the Night, p. 123; July 19, 1989, S. March, "'King of the Night' Wound Up Being a Trip into the Dark for its Author," p. 71.

Washington Post, May 29, 1983, Elisabeth Bumiller, review of Make-Believe, p. 5; October 7, 2001, review of The Kennedy Men, 1901–1963, p. 3.

Washington Post Book World, May 8, 1977; March 8, 1986, Ann Edwards, review of As Time Goes By; September 10, 1989.

Weekly Standard, August 1, 2005, Jordan Fabian, review of Fantastic, p. 39.

Working Woman, April 1986, Patricia Bosworth, review of As Time Goes By, p. 182.

ONLINE

Bookpage, http://www.bookpage.com/ (July 24, 2003), Edward Morris, review of Three Chords and the Truth.

My Shelf.com, http://www.myshelf.com/ (July 24, 2003), Brenda Weeaks, review of The Kennedy Men, 1901–1963.

Sons of Camelot, http://www.sonsofcamelot.com/ (September 12, 2005), information about Laurence Leamer.

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Leamer, Laurence Allen 1941-

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